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Mindanao Bishops ask Duterte to stop attacks against IFI

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Mindanao published an open letter to President Rodrigo Duterte asking him to stop ongoing harassment against their clergy in the island.

Gathering in Cagayan de Oro City last March 25 and 26 for a conferential meeting with the Church’s Supreme Bishop, the Most Reverend Rhee M. Timbang, the 14 IFI bishops they have been attacked through red tagging, vilification, surveillance, harassment and intimidation and worse, killings they suspect are the handiwork of government security forces.

“We saw at the highways and even walls of our churches desecrated with graffiti maligning the IFI and its leaders, Bishop Antonio Ablon of Pagadian and Bishop Felixberto Calang of Cagayan de Oro,” their letter said.

The bishops said the most recent attack against their Church happened last February 22 where leaflets or hit list bearing names of the bishops including that of Fr. Chris Ablon, Fr. Rolando Abejo, Fr. Khen Apus and their friends openly identified these people as members of underground revolutionary groups.

“This baseless and malicious accusation strongly believed to be orchestrated by state forces has openly identified these people as members of the CPP-NPA-NDFP (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines).

“We as episcopal leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Mindanao are very much alarmed that wanton extra judicial killings may fall on our church leaders. God forbid!” they said.

The bishops blame Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao for causing the “evil acts” as well as the refusal of the police to investigate their complaints.

“Worse, illegal arrest and detention, trump up charges and forced NPA surrenderees of peasants and lumad who are partners of our church in our community work and mission are conveniently presented to the public as prima facie evidence of the IFI’s and bishops’ affiliation to the rebel group,” they said.

The church leaders also complained that several active church lay leaders now fear for their lives and security as they are constantly under surveillance and are possible subject to warrantless arrest.

The bishops asked Duterte to end the attacks against peasant and labor leaders, against lumad and their communities, against defenders of lumad schools, lawyers, media and the Church.

The letter was signed by Timbang, Ablon, Calang, Cabadbaran Bishop Delfin Callao Jr., Davao Bishop Denny Dapitan, Libertad Bishop Rudy Juliada, Surigao Bishop Noel Lorente, Dinagat Bishop Mervin Jose Elimanco, Siargao Bishop Romeo Tagud, Koronadal Bishop Redeemer Yañez, Tubod Bishop Raul Amorcillo, Cortez Bishop Julius Dacera, Ozamiz Bishop Carlo Morales, Oroquieta Bishop Victor Batoy, and Malaybalay Bishop Gil Dinapo. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

IFI apologizes to sexual minorities, rejoices in the presence of LGBTIQ+ among members and clergy

Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) urged its members to embrace lesbians, gays and people of all other sexual orientations in an edict issued by its Supreme Council of Bishops (SCB) earlier this year and currently being circulated on social media.

Hoping to end “hurtful hate and suspicion,” the Church said it is challenged to stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning and those who identify with the other sexual minorities (LGBTIQ+) as it did when it “affirmed the gift of women priesthood” in the 1990s.

“We believe that the Church must openly embrace God’s people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions (SSOGIE) as we embark on a journey toward a just and peaceful world,” the SCB statement “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity” said.

Founded in 1902 as a revolutionary national church, IFI continues its reform-oriented doctrine and practice, including tolerance of freemasonry, optional celibacy for its clergy, women priesthood, and special missions for oppressed sectors such as the Lumad of Mindanao.

The Bishops apologized to the sexual minorities for the failures in the past.

“We humbly ask for forgiveness for the many times we have shown indifference, and have made the LGBTIQ+ people feel less human, discriminated against and stigmatized. We apologize for instances they felt that, through our thoughts, words and deeds, God’s love is selective,” the statement said.

IFI said the presence of the sexual minority among its members and clergy must be recognized and rejoiced.

“We applaud their persistent belief in God’s embracing love. The judgment, intolerance and non-acceptance have not stopped many from serving the Church, even through the priestly order. They have enriched the life, work and witness of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente,” it said.

The SCB also said it hopes its move can effect change among other Churches and church people.

“Through this declaration, we implore agenda-setters to discuss laws and initiatives challenging LGBTIQ+ discrimination. Only through this can we truly protect our brothers and sisters in the community, against issues such as abuse and the rise in HIV and AIDS cases in the sector; against avoidable fear, suffering and caution,” it said.

Need to propagate

IFI priest and human rights advocate Dionito Cabillas said their Church must strive to propagate the statement as it is an official declaration from its supreme council.

Cabillas said not all IFI members are ready to accept the edict, but its clergy must explain and teach it in their respective congregations.

“To be true to our revolutionary tradition, we must be a Church that truly loves God, serves the people and struggles to eliminate all forms of discrimination,” Cabillas said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Featured image from IFI-Negros Occidental FB page)

Arrested ‘NPA commander’ a JASIG-holder

UPDATED: 3:30 PM

THE National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced that the “top New People’s Army Commander” arrested Thursday night in Ozamiz City along with an Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) bishop is a consultant in its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

In a statement, NDFP’s chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said Rommel Salinas is a Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)-protected person with Document of Identification Number ND-978453 under the name of Hermie Abella.

Salinas was arrested with IFI Ozamiz Bishop Carlo Morales and two others last May 11 at six o’clock in the evening by Philippine National Police and Philippine Army (PA) forces at a checkpoint.

The PA’s 1st Infantry Division said Salinas (alias Venico, Beto, Carlos, Doming, Artem and Mark) is a top New People’s Army commander in Western Mindanao.

Salinas is reportedly facing criminal charges for destructive arson, murder, frustrated murder, attempted murder and robbery in band.

The PA added a hand grenade was allegedly seized from Salinas upon arrest.

Salinas’ arrest is “another clear violation of the JASIG,” Agcaoili said.

Online news site Interaksyon reported that, according to accounts from the IFI, Salinas “presented his ID as an NDFP consultant and JASIG holder” and informed the soldiers and police who stopped them that “the purpose of his travel is to campaign for the fifth round of the formal talks between (the government) and NDFP.”

The NDFP strongly condemned the arrests.

“It is obvious from the narration of events that Salinas had been conducting consultations with various sectors, including the religious, when he was arrested,” it said.

Meanwhile, Morales’ wife Darling Losaria Morales and their driver Isadome Dalid have been set free by the Ozamiz PNP, according to Fr. Dionito Cabillas, an IFI priest, announced on his Facebook page this morning.

Quoting an inquest memorandum by Fiscal Noel Boter, Cabillas said the bishop and Salinas remain in police custody for the non-bailable offense of illegal possession of explosives.

Proceedings against the two detainees will resume on Monday, Cabillas.

NDFP consultants in danger

The NDFP also assailed “growing threats” against its peace consultants, citing a series of incidents since the start of the year.

Just last Tuesday, NDFP Panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultant Wilma Austria-Tiamzon were tailed by motorcycle-riding men after their meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañan Palace and meeting with Tagum City farmers in their camp out on Mendiola Bridge.

The Tiamzons tried to shake off their tail aboard an RS motorcycle with partial license plate number 2419 for about half an hour before deciding to return to the Mendiola camp out, from where friends and comrades helped them evade their pursuers.

The Tiamzons noticed that the back rider was constantly talking to someone on his mobile phone while tailing them.

At the camp out, witnesses observed the motorcycle riders following the Tiamzons and mingling with the crowd to avoid detection.

They were reportedly backed up by at least two other teams of two men each who also monitored the couple’s movements.

They were also tailed in March after their arrival from backchannel talks in The Netherlands.

Earlier, suspected military agents had interrogated the driver of a rented car used by the Tiamzons upon their arrival last January from the third round of formal peace negotiations with the GRP.

The NDFP said consultants who have also complained of surveillance include Ruben Saluta, Concha Araneta, Tirso Alcantara, Ernesto Lorenzo and Kennedy Bangibang.

Several consultants were also threatened with re-arrest when the peace talks collapsed last February.

Agcaoili urged the GRP to look seriously into these incidents and take whatever measures are necessary, saying they may have severe repercussions on the ongoing peace negotiations.

He also expressed  “grave concern” about reports that the military in Northern Mindanao had issued shoot-to-kill orders against NDFP consultant Pedro Codaste while the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command was planning to abduct Porferio Tuna, another Mindanao-based consultant.

The NDFP and the GRP are set to hold their fifth round of formal negotiations in Noordwijk Aan Zee, The Netherlands on May 27 to June 2.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Photo by Jon Bustamante)

Church condemns ‘illegal arrest and detention’ of Bishop

THE Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) has accused the Philippine National Police (PNP) of illegally arresting one of its bishops, his wife and their driver in Ozamiz City in Mindanao last night.

The church said IFI Ozamiz Bishop Carlo Morales, his wife Marie Teofifina and driver Sadome Dalid were “illegally arrested, handcuffed and illegally detained in jail” even after he has identified himself as a prelate.

“Still he was accorded with such maltreatments,” IFI Pagadian Bishop Antonio Ablon said. Read more